Getting Around in Istanbul

The Galata Tower

Public transport in Istanbul is one of the cheapest and best I have experienced anywhere in the world, only Buenos Aires comes anywhere near. Recently, I have been showing Sue how to get around the city on all the various types of transport. Our first venture was over to Beyoğlu, as she had read about the Galata Tower in the Lonely Planet Guide, and was keen to see the famous view over the city.

The view of the Bosphorus from the Galata Tower

We live on the Asian side of Istanbul, and as we needed to cross to the European side, we first caught a yellow dolmuş to the Kadiköy ferry docks. The word "dolmuş" means "stuffed" in Turkish, and is the name of the shared minibus taxis. They travel up and down set routes throughout the city and are a great way of getting about. They have no scheduled stops along the way, as they pick up and drop passengers on request. The drivers are always on the lookout for potential customers and often hoot as they drive along, to let people know they have room for more.

The view down to the ground from the Galata Tower

The dolmuş drivers are very adept at driving on Istanbul's busy roads, and weave in and out of the traffic at a hair-raising pace; all the while collecting fares passed to them from behind, distributing change, answering calls on their mobiles, and remembering passengers instructions as where to drop them off.

We saw this knife grinder sharpening a knife for the kebab shop.

From Kadiköy we took the ferry to Karaköy, on the other side of the Bosphorus. Ferries criss-cross the Bosphorus every day, and mostly manage to avoid the international shipping passing through the straight. Amazingly, there are very seldom any accidents involving ferries on this very busy waterway.

To access the ferry, I used my akbil (see left). The word "akbil" is a condensed form of the Turkish words "akıllı bilet", which means "intelligent ticket", and is so useful for travelling around Istanbul. It is a pre-paid electronic pass that can be used on ferries, buses, trams, the metro, Tünel, and the funicular. It consists of an electronic button, set on a plastic fob, that conveniently fits onto a key chain. An akbil means no waiting to buy tickets, and not only gives a 10% discount on the original fare, but for any subsequent transfers within 2 hours, the discount is 50%. There are machines to fill the akbil at all ferry ports and railway stations. It is very easy to do, and there is always someone nearby to offer assistance should you need it

The vintage tram that runs from Tünel to Taksim Square

Once across the Bosphorus, we headed for Tünel. This is a short funicular railway connecting Karaköy, at sea level, with Beyoğlu, 60 metres higher up a very steep hill. Tünel was built by French engineers and has been used continuously since January 1875. It was built to transport people and goods up the steep incline from the waterside in Karaköy to the embassies and residences in Beyoğlu. From the station at the top of the funicular, we walked a little way back down the hill to Galata Tower; from the top of which we had a magnificent view of Istanbul.

Istiklal is always crowded with people

We saw these mouthwatering desserts in Istiklal

After descending from the tower, we had lunch at The House restaurant, and then walked all the way up Istiklal to Taksim Square, where we caught our dolmuş home.

Sue at the top of Istiklal, by the roasted chestnuts stall.


Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and the Grand Bazaar

 The Hagia Sophia has had all its scaffolding removed, the first time in years.

On our second day with Elenor, Angela and I took her to the Hagia Sophia, one of the most iconic images of Istanbul, This 6th century church amazes everyone who sees it (apart from Mark Twain, who called it, "The rustiest old barn in heathendom"). The sheer size alone is overwhelming, but when you consider that it was raised without the aid of modern-day machinery, the sight is overwhelming. At last, all the scaffolding for the renovations has been removed, for now, and its magnificence is revealed for all to see.

 The great dome of the Hagia Sophia

 Elenor and Angela

 The upper gallery, showing one of the eight roundels that were added by Sultan Abdülmecid, between 1847 and 1849.

The 9th century mosiac at the exit to the Hagia Sophia (although this was originally the entrance.) It shows Constantine offering the city of Constantinople to the Virgin Mary, while Justinian I offers the Hagia Sophia.

From the Hagia Sophia, we walked to the Grand Bazaar where Elenor still had to do some last minute shopping. Then, finally shopped out, we headed for her hotel to pick up her luggage, then took a taxi to the House Café in Ortaköy for lunch, before catching a ferry to Bostancı where I left them to take the dolmuş home. They, in turn, took another ferry to Büyükada where Elenor went to enjoy Angela's famed hospitality for the weekend, before returning to Norway.

The Grand Bazaar dates back to 1461, and is always fun.

While we were there, we saw the Muezzin giving the call to prayer in the Bazaar's mosque.

Elenor bought a beautiful blue ceramic bowl.

Winter is a good time to visit the bazaar, as there are far fewer tourists.


Sightseeing in Istanbul

I spent an interesting two days with Angela and Elenor, her childhood friend from Norway. Elenor was in Turkey to attend a Dyslexia Conference in Adana, after which she and a colleague, Marianne, decided to do some sightseeing in Istanbul.  We managed to pack in quite a lot of sightseeing in the short time they had available.

The tower on top of he Harem in the Topkapi Palace

Our first stop was the Topkapi Palace. Built by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II on the site of the original Byzantine palaces, Topkapi Palace dates from 1459, although it was not completed until 1478. The word "palace", usually conjures up an image of an imposing edifice of considerable size. Topkapi Palace doesn't fit this mould, being rather a collection of smallish buildings scattered over a large area.

The Aya Irini in the grounds of the Topkapi Palace

On entering the palace grounds, the first sight is of the Aya Irini (Hagia Eirene), Church of Divine Peace. A church was established on this site in the sixth century, but was seriously damaged during the Nika Riot in 532. It was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian in 537, and has remained little changed since then, apart from some repair to earthquake damage in 740. This church was never converted into a mosque in Ottoman times, but was used, first as an armoury, and later to store precious historical artifacts. Today, the building is used as a concert venue for orchestral and choral works.

Elenor and Angela at the entrance to the Harem

After buying our tickets and entering through the Bab-uş Selam (Gate of Salutations), we passed through to the palace's second courtyard, and Angela suggested that we cross directly to the Harem. This was a great idea as there was hardly anyone there. Most people work their way around the square, visiting the buildings in order, so the crowds hadn't reached there yet.

A beautiful mirror, one of a pair in the first room.

The Harem was where the Sultan resided, surrounded by his wives, children, concubines, eunuchs and slaves; all controlled by the stern hand of the Valide Sultan, the Queen Mother. It is a labyrinth of rooms, corridors and courtyards, where rooms were continually added and rebuilt as needed. The decorations are beautiful, and obviously the work of many master craftsmen.

The Courtyard of the Concubines and the Sultan's Consorts

Angela, Elenor and Marianne by the stunning view

After visiting the Harem, we went to the Mecidiye Pavilion to gaze out over the spectacular view of the Golden Horn and the confluence of the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara. The treasury was next and we marvelled at the extraordinary opulence of its bejewelled artefacts. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed there, so you will just have to go to see for yourselves.

The Basilica Cistern

Reluctantly, we left this amazing testament to a bygone era and headed for the Yerebatan Cistern (also known as the Basilica Cistern). This extraordinary feat of Roman engineering, enlarged to its present dimensions by the Emperor Justinian I in 532, was used to store water for the Great Palace. 

We had lunch in the Havuzlu Restaurant in the Grand Bazaar

Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar - an essential experience for any visitor to Istanbul. This was Marianne's last day, so she had shopping to do, as did the rest of us.

We looked at ceramic bowls

...and bought some beautiful scarves.


Boston, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa

The view from the house over Dave's land.

When Jane went to the Drakensberg on a girly weekend with her friends, I went to Boston to stay with Dave and Bärbel on their farm. They are both keen photographers, and are especially interested in the wild flowers of South Africa. They now have an extensive collection of images, all identified and classified. I persuaded Dave to set up some Power Point Presentations so he can give talks on their many walks through the beautiful, and often wild, South African countryside. We spent a happy day selecting images and setting up some slides.

We picked fresh rhubarb from Bärbel's vegie garden 
for her delicious rhubarb crumble.

Approaching the maize field, along a muddy farm-track.

On our walk, we came across these strange beetles.

Later in the day we walked the dogs across some of Dave's land, and around a maize field. We spent some time looking for Crowned Cranes, which Dave assures me can be frequently seen in that area. I took my camera, hoping to get in some good shots. Unfortunately, the only cranes we saw were too far away for any useful images. However, Dave kindly let me have a couple of his photos so I could see what I was missing!!

This was the closest I got to a Crowned Crane all weekend!

This was the shot I was hoping for, unfortunately this is not mine.

The weekend passed far too quickly and all too soon Dave and Bärbel were taking me to meet Jane and her friends at the Howick Falls. This 300ft (98m) waterfall is amazing. The Zulus call it KwaNogqaza, "place of the tall one", and they believe the area is inhabited by the spirits of their ancestors. Local legend also claims that a giant serpent-like creature, called the Inkanyamba, lives in the pool below the waterfall. For this reason, only Sangomas, or Witchdoctors, are allowed to approach it, as they believe anyone else is in terrible danger. Sacrifices of chickens and goats are offered here to appease the creature, and to honour Inkulunkulu, the Great God, as well as Amathongo, the ancestral spirits. It certainly is an awe-inspiring sight!

The Howick Falls

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I couldn't resist this one!